Cultivating the Family Tree – “The Give and Take”

Meitzke / Pixabay
Meitzke / Pixabay

Warning: Genealogy is addictive!  Years ago, I posted my first-ever query on a genealogical forum.  Inexperienced with this type of research, my question was half-heartedly presented, vague and inexplicit in nature.  Nevertheless, within a few days, I received a bubbly response from a distant (unknown) cousin who responded to my awkward attempt with a huge family welcome and at least a dozen pages of multigenerational family tree data. Wow! I had wrongly assumed this family tree thing would be more difficult!  I had been bitten by the bug of ancestry and the rest is history, literally.  I was hooked.

What I didn’t understand back then was that gathering and recording dates, names, stories, and photos is only half the fun of family tree building. The ability to help others find their “missing puzzle pieces” is equally as rewarding and the relationships forged are priceless.  One of my favorite resources for this type of “give & take” ancestry research is  And it’s free!

The website is a collective, volunteer-based effort to identify and document all cemeteries and ultimately, all graves contained within.  A vast number of cemeteries are already inventoried, listed, and photographed, while others are listed in part or not at all. It’s a work in progress.  Yet, thousands of files and photos are added every single hour, so the site has and continues to grow at warp speed.

When I first discovered through a Google search, I was hunting for my great-grandmother’s final resting place.  I knew she’d died in Maine, but her gravesite location was a mystery.   A quick site search of her name, DOB, and DOD immediately rendered a response that she was laid to rest in a historic gothic cemetery in Massachusetts; it also provided the plot number of her gravesite.   A partially completed listing, there was no photograph attached at that time.  Not a problem!  A button on the bottom of the listing allows the user to request a photograph, which is then seen by volunteers within a reasonable proximity of the cemetery location.  I immediately received a volunteer’s response with a promise of a photograph. A few weeks later, a photograph of both sides of her gravestone was posted to her file and I was notified of the update. I was thrilled!  So, that’s the “taking” part…..

Inspired by the efficiency and goodwill of the community, the logical next step was the “giving” part.  I signed up to be a volunteer contributor, began accepting requests for photographs at local cemeteries, and started listing smaller, lesser known cemeteries in my immediate area in need of development.  Since I frequent cemeteries often for my own ancestral research, it seemed like a natural to take a few extra photos for others who might not be able to visit their family gravesites.  Once a request is filled and the photo uploaded to the record, the requesting party is notified that the photo has been posted. They are then offered the opportunity to drop a line of feedback to the volunteer. My favorite comment, received after I’d filled a request last summer is, “My 3rd great grandfather.  You’ve made my year!  I live in Arizona and I will never make it back east to see his grave in person. Thank you soooo much!”   It doesn’t get any better than that.   And I was hooked again!

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